In our Office of Readings today, the feast of St Sebastian, we read from St Ambrose's commentary on Psalm 118 in which he praises the Milanese martyr and draws important lessons from his life, his faith and his heroic witness. Here is the extract from the Office which, I think, will prove encouraging for us in these difficult times.
To enter the kingdom of God we must endure many tribulations. If there are many persecutions, there are many testings; where there are many crowns of victory, there are many trials of strength. It is then to your advantage if there are many persecutors; among many persecutions you may more easily find a path to victory.
Take the example of the martyr Sebastian, whose birthday in glory we celebrate today.
He was a native of Milan. At a time when persecution either had ceased or had not yet begun or was of a milder kind he realized that there was only one slight, if any, opportunity for suffering.
He set out for Rome, where bitter persecutions were raging because of the fervor of the Christians. There he endured suffering; there he gained his crown. He went to the city as a stranger and there established a home of undying glory. If there had been only one persecutor, he would not have gained a martyr’s crown.
The persecutors who are visible are not the only ones. There are also invisible persecutors, much greater in number. This is more serious.
Like a king bent on persecution, sending orders to persecute to his many agents, and establishing different persecutors in each city or province, the devil directs his many servants in their work of persecution, whether in public or in the souls of individuals.Of this kind of persecution Scripture says: All who wish to live a holy life in Christ Jesus suffer persecution “All” suffer persecution; there is no exception. Who can claim exemption when the Lord himself endured the testing of persecution?
How many there are today who are secret martyrs for Christ, giving testimony to Jesus as Lord! The Apostle knew this kind of martyrdom, this faithful witnessing to Christ; he said: This is our boast, the testimony of our conscience.
In times of great darkness, we are called to bring great light, the light of Christ which enlightens our souls. In days when men and women fall back into the barbarity which faith and civilization had pushed back, we are to re-civilize through our prophetic witness.